In the Wilderness

First Sunday of Lent
So many moments fold into this one. 
 
A few weeks ago, my friend Shannon Schaefer wrote a stirring post on the baptism of the Lord. This week, we return to that moment in the first Sunday of a new season: Lent. 
 
In Epiphany, the baptism is a birth narrative, as Shannon wrote: “It’s a different kind of birth narrative, wherein the people of the story—past, present, future—are the family to which Jesus is born, and the prophet John becomes an unlikely midwife, handing us the Messiah. “
 
This week, as we begin the season of Lent and set our feet on the path towards the cross, this moment becomes a promise. The text reminds us of this, pointing back to the promise God gave to Noah in Genesis, “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
 
As Jesus rises out of the flood of the Jordan, a voice comes from heaven and declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”
 
On the first Sunday after Epiphany, Shannon noted that “this is the moment of incarnation for Mark’s gospel.” This is the moment when the “Word of God is once again placed in the hands of the prophets . . . the God who entrusts self to human tellings.”
 
On the first Sunday of Lent, this moment takes on a different sheen. It is still the beginning, but now it is the beginning of our path to Easter Sunday when the Word of God will be hanged on the Tree of Life. As a Catechist, I have had the privilege of walking along this path with many people over the last several years. Typically, I come across four kinds of Lenten travelers: those who are actively deconstructing the faith of their childhood, those who are actively reconstructing a child-like faith, and those who feel lost in the despair that so often comes between deconstruction and reconstruction. The fourth type are those travelers who have walked this path before and are returning to see it with new eyes. 
 
As we enter into the wilderness with Jesus, which traveler are you this year? These aren’t one-and-done phases—most Christians I know are usually actively reconstructing, deconstructing, despairing, or seeing anew some facet of their spiritual life. Oftentimes, all four things are going on at once—but usually one will rise to the top for a season. So, how are you embarking on this Lenten journey this year? 
 
As Stephen Fowl reminded us last week, the life of faith is like “an invitation to your own funeral . . . the closer we follow [Jesus], the more we will die.” Stephen goes on to say that “this is the death that leads to true life . . . our lives cannot be one constant demolition site.”
 
So, where are you this Lent? Are you actively de-constructing something which was once the Gospel-truth? Are you caught in the despair that so often accompanies this demolition? Are you engaged in the hard work of picking up the pieces and building something new? Or have you returned from your wanderings in another place to see your faith with new eyes? 
 
However you are engaging this Lenten journey, remember you are not alone. Jesus is in the wilderness with you, and so are we. If the darkness closes in and you feel lost and bereft of all hope, I pray that God will remind you of the covenant made with Noah – that never again would total destruction be visited upon the earth. In your darkest moments when the rain is pouring down and all hope seems to have fled, I pray that you will look up and behold a rainbow. In those moments, I pray that the words of God will come back to you and you will remember that you are beloved. 
 
May the peace of Christ go with you, wherever God may send you. 
May God guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm. 
May God bring you home rejoicing at all the many wonders God has shown you.
May God bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors. 
Amen. 
 
Photo Credit: Luca Galuzzi

Gifts in the Wilderness

By Ben Lee

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 16:2-15

Matthew 20:1-16

During my family’s annual week-long family reunion, my parents would sometimes find unique things for us to do as a family. One year, when I was around twelve years old, he decided to rent a boat and take us out to a nearby island. Many of my cousins and I spent the day snorkeling and collecting shells, rocks, and even a few fossils. The next year, he arranged for us all to go on a deep-sea fishing trip for the day. After these two years, I began to expect something even better. I even had the gall to say “What are you going to do for us this year? It needs to be something that is more exciting than deep-sea fishing.” That was the year that my dad decided to do nothing. I was furious. It was going to be the worst year ever. Forget the fact that even being able to take a week-long vacation was a tremendous privilege.

The more I calculated what was coming to me, the more I distorted the dynamics of the gift that was being offered. And so my dad withheld that particular gift, lest I confuse the reason why he was offering it in the first place.  Read more

Out in the Wilderness

Mark 1:4-11

First Sunday after the Epiphany

The Gospel of Mark opens with a brief telling of the story of John the Baptizer. What are we to make of this crazy fellow who lives out in the wilderness, wears clothes made of camel hair and eats locusts and honey? For the first century readers of this Gospel, this language with which Mark describes John conjured up images of Elijah. “Just as a gaunt bearded face and a stovepipe hat would immediately conjure up the image of Abe Lincoln for those socialized into modern American mythology” writes Ched Myers, “so would John’s garb have invoked the great prophet Elijah for Mark’s readers.” John is a prophet in the same vein as Elijah, humble, far removed from the halls of power in his day, and yet God used him to prepare the way for the Messiah through whom all creation would be reconciled.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of John’s story is the place in which we find him, the wilderness.

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